Thursday, January 10, 2008 35 Comments

An open letter to Ron Paul supporters (part 1)

Ron Paul is wonderful. He is the best thing to happen in American politics in my lifetime. I will vote for Dr. Paul. I think anyone eligible should do likewise.

But I have some questions for my fellow Paulistas.

Suppose Ron Paul is elected President. What makes you think that President Paul can fix the US Federal Government?

What makes you think that any President can fix the US Federal Government?

What makes you think that the US Federal Government can be fixed at all?

And if you don't think it can be fixed, what do you hope to achieve by voting in its elections?

Obviously, it all depends what you mean by "fix." But obviously, if you support Ron Paul, you think said institution, which down on the Potomac oft assumes the snappy name of USG - not to be confused with U.S. Gypsum, maker of fine Sheetrock - is in desperate need of an extreme makeover.

When Barry Obama talks about "change," he's talking about a whole new brand of lipstick, a deep restoring facial and maybe even a few collagen shots. With Dr. Paul, the bone saw is a given. We're probably looking at a full maxillary reconstruction, a few rounds of chemo, and perhaps a silver nose, like Tycho Brahe's. Assuming all goes well, our new Old Republic, meticulously recreated from 200-year-old dental records, will resemble the present USG about as much as the latter looks like U.S. Gypsum.

All the better, you say. If your problem is an invasive sphenoid tumor, your solution is not blush and mascara. Our beloved Republic is sick. Deeply sick. She needs the procedure. And in Dr. Paul, the man, the hour and the rongeur have met.

But have they?

At this point the soothing, Grímaesque voice of the moderate mainstream libertarian may be heard, suggesting that Dr. Paul is unelectable. Ergo, it will not help to vote for Dr. Paul, because Dr. Paul will not be elected, and your precious vote will be wasted. Rather, if you want to work for real change, you should work within the system.

Of course, there are only so many desks at the Cato Institute to go around. But if you make your small voice heard, maybe there will be more. Who says libertarians can't have their own Beltway patronage machine? Uncle Sam beams down benevolently on friend and foe alike. As in Orwell's classic, the two are never far from common ground.

Needless to say, here at UR we have no truck with these shills - who remind me most of the type of house dissident, like Georgi Arbatov, that flourished so in the later Soviet period. But yes, if I had to bet, I would bet that Ron Paul will not be elected in 2008. I don't think he will even win the Republican nomination.

But would I, realistically, rule it out? Fashion is fickle. Even intellectual fashion. And in a democracy, intellectual fashion rules. The age of viral politics is upon us. Is all that stands between Dr. Paul and the White House the right YouTube spot or two? Who the hell knows. Frankly, kids these days baffle me. And even if Dr. Paul doesn't win this year, there will be other years and other Ron Pauls - as Todd Seavey points out.

(I'm not even going to start on this Nazi crap. I refer you to my post on the subject. Anyone who starts playing the Kevin Bacon game with Ron Paul and Hitler, or anyone and Hitler, is required to submit to the same experiment with Stalin and Mao, and is specifically enjoined from using the term "McCarthyism" for so long as they may live. You fuckers. You really don't have any shame, do you?)

So, again: even if Ron Paul - or someone like him, in 2012 or 2016 or 2020 - is elected, will he be able to fix USG?

Dr. Paul has described his program very eloquently and straightforwardly. He wants to restore the Constitution of 1789. Or at least this is how he describes it, although probably a better match for the actual Paul platform would be the Constitution of 1889. But no matter. Next to the present situation, the difference is small.

Let's assume our goal is to achieve this result. We would like to convert USG into something which at least bears some vague resemblance to the structure described in the Constitution of 1789, plus of course its duly ratified amendments to the present date, interpreted according to their original public meaning.

Obviously, no one person can achieve this goal. We, the set of people who would prefer this state of affairs to the present state of affairs, will have to act collectively. The question is: is voting for Ron Paul, or someone like him, an effective collective strategy for producing this result - assuming we have sufficient votes to elect Dr. Paul as President?

Actually, this is not a question for me. I know the answer. At least, I think I know the answer. Perhaps I am wrong, but if so I feel quite confident in my error.

And so my actual question is about you - my fellow Ron Paul supporters. Are you voting for - and even better, donating to - the Paul campaign because you seriously believe that, if Dr. Paul is elected, he will actually be able to carry out his extreme-makeover bone-saw program?

If so, let me put it as gently as possible. You have no idea what you're up against.

But why should you believe me? Perhaps I am just another enemy of freedom. Surely there are many such, and perhaps I am one. So let's start by looking at what we can agree on.

Since we are Ron Paul supporters, we agree that USG is not, in fact, the organization described by the Constitution of 1789. You have all heard Dr. Paul's spiel. I see no need to repeat it.

In other words, USG operates under an unwritten constitution. To Americans, this sounds paradoxical, sacrilegious, or both. In fact it is perfectly normal.

Under an unwritten constitution, there is one sovereign legislative institution which holds the ultimate power of government, and whose authority cannot be legally disobeyed. The law is whatever this body says the law is. In the UK, this institution is Parliament. In the US, it is the Supreme Court.

USG's unwritten constitution consists of a series of Supreme Court precedents, many of which date to the 1930s - Footnote Four is perhaps the best example. These are simply laws expressed as judicial decisions. Generally they are very vague and broad. Then Congress writes its own laws within these boundaries. Generally these are quite vague and broad. Then the various agencies and other arms of USG write regulations within the boundaries defined by Congress. Generally these are quite detailed and specific. And this is how the sausage is made. If you don't like it, you can, of course, petition the Supreme Court. If this isn't legislative sovereignty, what is?

Of course, USG is peculiar in having a written Constitution to go with its unwritten one. This has required our rulers to bend their decrees sinuously around the text of this ancient document, an exercise which at least serves to remind us of Mr. Swift's Tale of a Tub. As for the claim that Americans are free whereas Britons live in chains, because we have a written Constitution and they are subject to their rulers' every passing whim, I will have to respectfully disagree. I have never lived in Britain, but I gather the main difference is that they drive on the other side of the road.

Written constitutions were an experiment. The data are in. The experiment has failed. If Dr. Paul would prefer USG to return to the Constitutional interpretation of 1789, or 1889, or 1926, or whenever, he of course is free to say so. And I agree. Certainly, compared to the USG we have today, the structure of 1789 strikes me as quite appealing.

But why should we assume that, if Dr. Paul managed to return the US to the Constitution of 1789, it would stay that way? We once had a Constitution of 1789. Then stuff happened. And now we don't. Does this sound like a success to you?

Let's call this the first crack in the "convince everyone to vote for Ron Paul" strategy for fixing USG. We are still assuming that President Paul can perform the surgery. But will the wound stay closed? And will it heal properly? Does the Constitution of 1789 protect us at all against the possibility that the tumor will just grow back? Perhaps quite a bit faster than it took to grow in the first place?

What we're questioning here is the commonly held, but thoroughly fallacious, concept of limited government. I agree that limited government is desirable. I see no reason at all to believe that it is implementable. Note the curious use of the passive voice in this construction. How can a sovereign authority limit its own power? If it decides to change its mind and take the power back, who exactly will stop it?

For me, 200mpg carburetors, penis enlargement pills, and written constitutions which limit the power of the State are all in the same category. I think they would be great to have. I will believe that they exist when I not only see them working, but understand how it is that they can possibly work. I recognize that both these tests are very difficult. If you want to start by passing just one, my inbox is always open.

One sad effect of this mania for government-limiting constitutions is that it has obscured the previous meaning of the word constitution, which is actually much more useful. In normal 18th-century English, the constitution of a government (or any other institution) just meant its persistent organizational structure. The term was not prescriptive, but descriptive.

For example, John Adams' Defence of the Constitutions of the United States - well worth a read, by the way - uses the word in this good old descriptive sense. An actual defense of the constitution of the present USG would strain the powers of Lucifer, let alone John Adams. But I would still find it quite interesting to read. Of course, you would need the constitution first.

For example, our written, prescriptive Constitution says nothing at all about the press, except of course that it shall be free - whatever that means. But is it really possible to construct a descriptive constitution of USG without mentioning the official press? The Times and the Post alone are institutions at least as influential and durable as many formal government agencies. Their powers - such as the right to publish leaks - are thoroughly embedded in both law and custom. If they are not even mentioned in the constitution, how descriptive can it be?

And when we ask ourselves what President Paul can do to fix USG, which document should we consult? The written Constitution of 1789 (plus amendments), or the descriptive constitution of 2008? Unfortunately, the latter does not exist, but it is our only option. If the Constitution of 1789 determined the answer, would we need a President Paul?

Therefore, let's consider the powers of the President, in the actual USG as it actually exists.

Sometimes I get the impression that many voters actually believe that the President is in some sense "the leader of his country." As though he was Adolf Hitler, or something. If you are operating under this illusion, it is probably too much for me to dispel, but I will try anyway.

Under the actual constitution of the actual USG as it actually exists today, the President is a relatively minor official whose duties are primarily ceremonial. The office is not yet utterly impotent, like the British monarchy. But give it a century or two.

Suppose the product of a Presidential election actually was "the leader of his country." While the term "country" in political discourse is spectacularly meretricious, oscillating between (a) a partition of the planet's surface, (b) a set of humans or at least hominids, and (c) a sovereign corporation or "government" which exercises sovereign power over (a) and (b), clearly the concept of a "leader" makes no sense in the first context, is too scary for words in the second, and can be understood only in the third.

Thus a "leader" of USG would be a corporate executive, ie, a CEO. This sounds like we are on the right track, because we know there is some association between the President and something called the "executive branch." Perhaps, if Dr. Paul was elected President, we could think of him as the CEO of USG?

Not a chance. We have slipped away from our actual descriptive constitution, and instead find ourselves back in high-school civics class, reciting pablum.

A CEO of a normal private organization (company, nonprofit, etc) controls four aspects of the company's operations: budget, policy, structure, and personnel. He or she sets the distribution of funds between units of the institution; tells its employees what to do and how to do it; configures lower-level management structures; and can hire and fire individuals at will.

Forget Ron Paul for a moment. Imagine if we elected not Dr. Paul, but Steve Jobs, as President of the US. He wouldn't take the job, but imagine if he did.

President Jobs would find himself in a rather unaccustomed position. He could not reallocate funds between agencies, or even between departments, or even between programs. He could not change any organizational structure. He could not tell anyone what to do. He could not fire, promote, or demote any of his employees. What could he do? Look dignified and come across well on TV.

And indeed, this is basically the task of USG's so-called "President." His most important function is to pretend to be in charge. And this is the one function in which the entire executive branch, plus of course the White House proper, will enthusiastically assist him.

For a good look at what George W. Bush actually does, I find this page invaluable. If you are anything like me, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the Executive Order of October 20, 2007: "Protection of Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations."

This is a fine example of the petty whims by which Chimpy Bushitler, notorious fascist and fanatical angler, rules our nation. Bushitler and his notorious, Goeringlike henchman, Dick McDick, when they are not torturing nuns, spend all their time out on the Chesapeake, fishing for striped bass, red drum, and other brackish, white-fleshed piscids. So Bushitler and McDick, spitting in the face of our economically vital seafood industry, have taken striped bass and red drum off America's dinner table, reserving these delicious fish for themselves and their well-heeled sportfishing cronies. Just another day in the Republican reign of terror, kids.

Right. What actually happened? Why did this pearl drop from the President's pen? Because someone put it in front of him, and he signed it.

As I've mentioned a couple of times, I come from a civil-service family. Horrible as it may seem, I was raised and educated on your tax dollars. And if there is one modern production which everyone who I have ever met who had ever been involved in government considers an accurate portrayal of the actual thing as it actually is, it is, of course, Yes Minister. (If like me you are allergic to canned laughter, the scripts are available as a book, which is perfectly readable. But see below.)

The one mystery about YM for me was how the people who wrote it found out. Surely it is not possible, even at the BBC, to be both a senior civil servant and a TV screenwriter. Since, as Lao-Tzu put it, those who talk don't know and those who know don't talk, the existence of this show, isolated example though it is, struck me as implausible. Yet there it was.

As with so many of my childhood conundrums, the Internet has resolved this for me. The principal source for YM is the posthumously-published diaries of Richard Crossman, who was housing minister in the '60s under Harold Wilson. (I can only shudder at the concrete horrors for which he must be responsible - at least, nominally responsible.) As a glance at the first page of his diary will confirm, Crossman simply is Jim Hacker. Other personalities are also quite recognizable.

My edition (abridged, and 750 pages) begins with this entry:
Thursday, October 22nd
I was appointed Minister of Housing on Saturday, October 17th, 1964. Now it is only the 22nd but, oh dear, it seems a long, long time. It also seems as though I had transferred myself completely to this new life as a Cabinet Minister. In a way it's just the same as I had expected and predicted. The room in which I sit is the same in which I saw Nye Bevan for almost the first time when he was Minister of Health, and already I realize the tremendous effort it requires not to be taken over by the Civil Service. My Minister's room is like a padded cell, and in certain ways I am like a person who is suddenly certified a lunatic and put safely into this great, vast room, cut off from real life and surrounded by male and female trained nurses and attendants. When I am in a good mood they occasionally allow an ordinary human being to come and visit me; but they make sure that I behave right, and that the other person behaves right; and they know how to handle me. Of course, they don't behave quite like nurses because the Civil Service is profoundly deferential - 'Yes, Minister! No, Minister! If you wish it, Minister!' and combined with this there is a constant preoccupation to ensure that the Minister does what is correct. The Private Secretary's job is to make sure that when the Minister comes into Whitehall he doesn't let the side or himself down and behaves in accordance with the requirements of the institution.

It's also profoundly true that one has only to do absolutely nothing whatsoever in order to be floated forward on the stream. I have forgotten what day it was - indeed, the whole of my life in the last four days has merged into one, curious, single day - when I turned to my Private Secretary, George Moseley, and said, 'Now, you must teach me how to handle all this correspondence.' And he sat opposite me with his owlish eyes and said to me, 'Well, Minister, you see there are three ways of handling it. A letter can either be answered by you personally, in your own handwriting; or we can draft a personal reply for you to sign; or, if the letter is not worth your answering personally, we can draft an official answer.' 'What's an official answer?' I asked. 'Well, it says the Minister has received your letter and then the Department replies. Anyway, we'll draft all three variants,' said Mr Moseley, 'and if you just tell us which you want...' 'How do I do that?' I asked. 'Well, you put all your in-tray into your out-tray,' he said, 'and if you put it in without a mark on it then we deal with it and you need never see it again.'
This is the default existence of every politician and political appointee in the modern Western system of government. They simply empty their inboxes into their outboxes. The civil service, which by definition is permanent and cannot be touched by anyone who is contaminated by the deadly stain of "politics," takes care of the rest. As long as you believe in democratic centrism, this system makes perfect sense.

Of course, life is only easy politicians who are aligned with the civil service. Learning that the inspiration for Jim Hacker MP was a hard-line Old Laborite makes perfect sense to me - the left is always, in every case, the party of the institutional civil service. Crossman's interactions with his "nurses" are comical because they are basically on the same side. If he decides to stop trying to swim and just float, he is unlikely to be horrified by the results. If he manages to flail around and actually get something done, they are unlikely to be horrified.

There are no Ministers or Private Secretaries in DC. Crossman's opposite number in Washington, especially Washington today, would be surrounded by a small platoon of so-called "sched Cs," known to the punters as "political appointees." There are a couple thousand of these jobs, which are listed in a wonderful little volume called the Plum Book. From the Beltway's viewpoint, the primary purpose of your vote this November is to decide who shall consume these plums, "so sweet / and so cold."

My mother was a GS-15 at DoE, working on budget and policy for renewable energy, in the Clinton administration. The other day I asked her about the sched Cs. "They get very nice offices," she said. "And they can do pretty much whatever they want. They're encouraged to find something and work on it." A legion of little Jim Hackers. Here in America, everything comes in a bigger box.

Of course, the politicians have another option. They can try to fight. Sometimes this is done by the so-called "Republicans" among them. Perhaps you have seen stories in the press that indicate that some elected mannequin or other is trying to "politicize" the operations of some responsible and professional arm of USG. This indicates that someone is struggling. Of course, the classic example of an American politician who really went to war with the civil service was old Tailgunner Joe, and we all know what happened to him.

The basic strategy of the civil servant, when attacked by a politician or political appointee, is to make his attacker or the attacker's political sponsor look bad in the press. Since politicians cannot be elected without the cooperation of the press, this strategy always works. Since the press is effectively part of the civil service (if the news desks at the Post, the Times, and CNN were reorganized into a Department of Journalism, perhaps not unlike the BBC, the lives of reporters would hardly change at all), this game is always "on."

(I seem to recall a case recently in which a government employee was penalized for disclosing confidential information to the press. What do you think? Was he a career civil servant, or a sched C? No prizes to the winner.)

The issue is not exactly new. Here is Carlyle, from his Latter-Day Pamphlet #3 (1850):
A mighty question indeed! Who shall be Premier, and take in hand the "rudder of government," otherwise called the "spigot of taxation;" shall it be the Honorable Felix Parvulus, or the Right Honorable Felicissimus Zero? By our electioneerings and Hansard Debatings, and ever-enduring tempest of jargon that goes on everywhere, we manage to settle that; to have it declared, with no bloodshed except insignificant blood from the nose in hustings-time, but with immense beershed and inkshed and explosion of nonsense, which darkens all the air, that the Right Honorable Zero is to be the man. That we firmly settle; Zero, all shivering with rapture and with terror, mounts into the high saddle; cramps himself on, with knees, heels, hands and feet; and the horse gallops--whither it lists. That the Right Honorable Zero should attempt controlling the horse--Alas, alas, he, sticking on with beak and claws, is too happy if the horse will only gallop any-whither, and not throw him. Measure, polity, plan or scheme of public good or evil, is not in the head of Felicissimus; except, if he could but devise it, some measure that would please his horse for the moment, and encourage him to go with softer paces, godward or devilward as it might be, and save Felicissimus's leather, which is fast wearing. This is what we call a Government in England, for nearly two centuries now.
The Parvuli and Felicissimi of Carlyle's time were giants next to the absurd nonentities who are trying to keep themselves on the horse today. And now it is more like four centuries. Everything else is pretty much the same, though.

So what do you think would happen to Ron Paul if he tries to stay on Carlyle's horse? I'm afraid there are exactly two possibilities. I believe Dr. Paul is an honorable man, so we need only consider the first, which is that he will fight the system and actually try to downsize DC.

Of course, beyond his ability to block Congressional legislation (a courtesy Senate rules grant to every single Senator - people in DC who can stop things from happening are a dime a dozen), his power to nominate Supreme Court justices (who must still be confirmed by the Senate; and note also that Republican Presidents chose seven out of the last four conservative Justices), and his nominal command of the armed forces (whom he can at least order to stop whatever they are doing right now and come home; but so can Barack Obama), President Paul will have no power whatsoever.

But don't worry. He will still have the power to make a fool of himself - at least as portrayed in the eyes of the press. His popularity will descend into the single digits. The result will be that Americans will consider libertarianism "discredited" for at least the next twenty years. Except for the same kinds of diehards who support him now, everyone who voted for Ron Paul in 2008 will realize, by 2012, that they were swept up in a wave of craziness, they had no idea what they were thinking, and they will certainly never think it again.

In other words, the problem with believing in Dr. Paul is that Dr. Paul is a candidate in a democratic election. To vote for him and believe you are doing something meaningful and important, it is necessary to believe not just in one thing - Ron Paul - but in two: Ron Paul and contemporary American democracy.

Obviously, when Paulistas talk about the press and its vicious vendetta against Dr. Paul, we can see that they have no illusions about their enemies. Their illusion is strictly confined to their friends, or those they imagine to be their friends. They huddle round the belief that the American electorate will come to its senses in a great flash of political light, and that once they come to their senses they will remain there. This Damascus experience will be triggered simply by the realization that America is a libertarian country, was founded as such, and has remained as such deep in the American heart.

Excuse my French, but this is crap. Americans are like everyone else. They believe what they're told to believe. They respond to superior authority. For the last 75 years, they have been told that the State is their mother and father. Or possibly both. And now, they deploy the official "we" with gay abandon. Even I have a tough time removing this malignant pronoun from my tongue, and I do try. Americans simply cannot imagine life except in the warm arms of their official universal uberparent.

If you're trying to save the old libertarian America, you've arrived on the scene a little late. Electing Ron Paul is like showing up at an autopsy with a live human liver. Yes, it's true - the patient did die of liver failure. But that was a week ago. I suppose it can't hurt to try and put the thing in, but I really doubt it will do any good.

Anthony Howard, the editor of my Crossman edition, describes Crossman's struggle as a Fabian who also happened to believe in democracy. One might as well be a Catholic who also happened to believe in anal sex, and the permanent cognitive dissonance is characteristic:
The most familiar charge brought against Crossman even while he lived was that of 'inconsistency'. Yet in one area, from the days when he was a young Oxford don, he was as constant as the Northern Star. His first, and favourite, book Plato Today wrestles with the problem of to what degree British parliamentary democracy is a sham, a fraud or a hoax: and it was a question that Crossman continued to tussle with until the day he died. It made him a highly unusual, not to say unorthodox, politician (his fellow practitioners of the craft being more generally noted for conveying complacency rather than betraying disquiet about a system that at least had had the merit of recognizing their own talents). Crossman, however, as well as possessing 'the bump of irreverence' that he was much given to boasting about, had throughout his career a passionate - and at times inconvenient - commitment to the notion of making democracy actually work. His haunting doubt - and this is as apparent in his last public lecture as in his first book - was that in some way the British electorate was being fobbed off with what Plato called 'the noble lie': in other words that the British voter, while encouraged to believe that he was part of a self-governing democracy, was in effect - through the device of so-called 'representative institutions' - enduring government by oligarchy. The guilty secret at the heart of the British governmental system, Crossman came increasingly to believe, was that it was deliberately designed not to give ordinary people their heads but rather to tame the demon of democracy before it did too much damage.

Of course, as regular readers of UR are aware, the demon is most definitely a demon. Taming it is the most important function of modern governments. There was a time in American history when the President was actually the CEO of the executive branch, more or less. At least, he controlled personnel. This was called the spoils system. It cannot be said to have worked - in any sense of the word. And limiting it to what is now the Plum Book was the great achievement of the reformers of the 1880s.

So we have established the following facts:
  1. Ron Paul is unelectable (being a Nazi and all).
  2. If Ron Paul is elected, the civil-service oligarchy will crush him like a bug.
  3. The only thing worse than civil-service oligarchy is actual democracy.
What is the alternative? Is there any alternative? Or are we all just doomed? Tune in next week for the stunning, yet obvious, answer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, but I think you overstate the case for bureaucratic inertia, and understate the case for the fact that people like getting services from their government.

I think the trend toward socialist democracies over time has more to do with demand from the people than supply from the government side. Wait, that country over there gets free healthcare? Why don't we?

Lastly, by your logic we the US should have been on a steady march towards government expansion, when in fact marginal tax rates are MUCH lower now than they were in the 40's and 50's. How did government give up this power? Also note that under Clinton the size of the government actually decreased by something like 20%, I forget the details.

January 10, 2008 at 6:04 AM  
Blogger drank said...

For what it's worth, here's Bryan Caplan's take on essentially the same question: What Could President Paul Actually Do?

I think he's more plausible that MM on the authority the president actually wields: military deployments, executive orders, and legislative veto. A notional President Paul would use these tools, and would shove the "political center" in some desirable ways with them.

On the other hand, I think MM is more or less correct to describe how the press & bureaucracy would respond to any president that used those tools in the ways Dr. Paul proposes. Exactly how many stories could the New York Times run about a photogenic sick child denied care by Paul's heartless vetoes? I'm betting quite a few!

January 10, 2008 at 6:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also note that under Clinton the size of the government actually decreased by something like 20%, I forget the details.

Ha, very amusing.

The True Size of Government
By Paul C. Light
Government Executive
January 1, 1999

"Despite declarations to the contrary from elected officials across the political spectrum, the federal government is much bigger, not smaller, than it was 30 years ago.

Only by using the narrowest possible definition of the true size of government--headcount in the federal civil service--could President Clinton declare that "the era of big government is over" in his 1996 State of the Union address. Although Clinton's declaration earned a roar of applause from both sides of the aisle, it was a partial truth at best, a false claim at worst. Counting all the people who deliver goods and services for Washington, while removing the masking effects of the huge Defense Department downsizing, Clinton would have been much more accurate to say that the era of big government was continuing pretty much unabated. And that is precisely what the vast majority of Americans want.

A more realistic headcount begins with the 1.9 million full-time permanent civilian federal workers who get their paychecks and identification cards from Uncle Sam. Add in the 1.5 million uniformed military personnel and 850,000 U.S. Postal Service workers who were counted in the federal workforce until their department became a quasi-government corporation in 1970, and the total full-time permanent federal workforce was just under 4.3 million in 1996, the last year for which good numbers are available on both the visible and shadow federal workforce.

Add in the people who work under federal contracts and grants or mandates imposed on state and local governments and the illusion of smallness becomes clear. In 1996, the federal government's $200 billion in contracts created an estimated 5.6 million jobs, its $55 billion in grants created another 2.4 million jobs, and its array of mandates in such fields as air and water quality and health and safety regulation encumbered another 4.7 million jobs in state, county and municipal governments. Add these 12.7 million shadow jobs to the 4.25 million civilian, military and postal jobs, and the true size of government in 1996 expands to nearly 17 million, or more than eight times larger than the standard headcount of 1.9 million used by Congress and the President to declare the era of big government over. And the count does not even include the full-time equivalent employment of the people who work on a part-time or temporary basis for Uncle Sam--for example, the 884,000 members of the military reserves."

January 10, 2008 at 6:57 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

And indeed, this is basically the task of USG's so-called "President." His most important function is to pretend to be in charge.

This is true, but misses the point. The President's most important function is to change the mind of the people. When the people change, the courts change and the civil service change. In that sense, Paul could be successful if he managed to convince the people in his ideas. Because he's a funny-looking little man with a squeaky voice though, he's definitely not up to that job, in my opinion.

That's why I'm supporting Obama over Hillary or Edwards. I think that with his once-in-a-generation inspirational ability he can change the people's minds about issues enough to get some real (albeit small) changes made in the right (according to me) direction.

Thinking that a Ron Paul or Ralph Nader or Ross Perot is going to make some huge difference is a pipe dream. You can't stop an aircraft carrier with an unarmed man in a lifeboat.

Unless the man on the lifeboat is persuasive enough to get the carrier to change its own direction.

January 10, 2008 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

Is anyone reminded of the description of Zaphod's real function in the galactic government?

January 10, 2008 at 8:13 AM  
Anonymous icr said...

What sort of change could we expect from Obama -or any of the likely nominees,for that matter ? Does anyone have an idea? My guess is maybe a NHS. Beyond that, nothing of consequence and AIPAC will still be running ME policy.

IOW, the US will remain on course for the iceberg.

January 10, 2008 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Even assuming that a competent high-level bureaucrat/appointee will do nothing... An incompetent one may do worse than nothing. He may put marks on the *wrong* documents during their passage from inbox to outbox.

Look what happened to FEMA. In a few short years, it went from being an organization effective enough to be feared (at least by the black helicopter crowd) to being an organization that couldn't even deliver drinking water with helicopters.

Does anyone think that this is completely unrelated to the appointment of Brown?

This is true all the way up to the President. He may not be capable of being truly productive. As previous commenters pointed out, his persuasive function should not be ignored. But one thing the President can do very effectively is to sabotage what he doesn't like. (That's why the President's veto is more important than a Senator's.)

What would Ron Paul sabotage? What would Obama sabotage? What would Clinton sabotage? McCain? Huckabee? In effect, *that* is a large portion of what we're voting for.

If we want to see science education sabotaged, vote for Huckabee. If we want to see the military sabotaged, vote for anyone but McCain or maybe Clinton. If we want the tax system sabotaged, we'd better vote for Ron Paul. Will he be able to do the job? Will the cure be worse than the disease? Will he also sabotage things that we need more than a functioning tax system?


January 10, 2008 at 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look what happened to FEMA. In a few short years, it went from being an organization effective enough to be feared (at least by the black helicopter crowd) to being an organization that couldn't even deliver drinking water with helicopters. Does anyone think that this is completely unrelated to the appointment of Brown?

Well, yeah. We have little evidence that FEMA was "effective" in the 1990s in anything beyond inspiring paranoid delusion. Are you arguing that the moonbats were right, and that is your best evidence that FEMA was terrifyingly effective from 1992-2000? Certainly FEMA was never tested on a Katrina-like scale in the 1990s, so how can we know it would have handled a similar crisis "more effectively" before Brown took over?

January 10, 2008 at 11:28 AM  
Anonymous icr said...

If we want to see science education sabotaged, vote for Huckabee. If we want to see the military sabotaged, vote for anyone but McCain or maybe Clinton.

I don't think the fact that Huckabee disbelieves in evolution would have any effect on the state of science education in the US. Reagan was said to believe in astrology, did that have some effect on science education? In any case, the permanent USG/MSM would never allow Darwin to be replaced by creationism/ID in the nation's schools. The claim about the military being likely to be "sabotaged" if anyone except McCain or Clinton wins is simply a bizarre unsupported assertion.

January 10, 2008 at 11:44 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...


What sort of change could we expect from Obama -or any of the likely nominees,for that matter ? Does anyone have an idea? My guess is maybe a NHS. Beyond that, nothing of consequence and AIPAC will still be running ME policy.

Universal health care (not the same as NHS, btw) is a big one. The war in Iraq and the "war" on terror would be changed (for the better or worse is up for debate.) A judge or two will be different. Social security might get a major overhaul. The economy might have serious changes one way or the other. Nobody's going to take us back to 1789, but that's not the same thing as saying they don't matter at all.

Just compare Bush to Gore. If Gore had won, there might not have been an Iraq war. That's billions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives difference, right there. We could have been a lot safer in terms of fewer new terrorists.

There wouldn't have been the Bush tax cuts. Maybe the economy would be drastically better or worse. We'd surely be in much less debt. Instead of Alito and Roberts, we'd have two liberal-moderates. Katrina might have been handled competently.

These are big differences. Not civil war big, but big. You can fantasize about going back to the gold standard or having an MM-style bloodless revolution, but in the real world, the person who becomes president will seriously affect hundreds of millions of people.

January 10, 2008 at 12:08 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

To icr:

Science education has already been sabotaged, not by believers in creationism/ID but by the prevailing political correctness. Darwin is tolerated as providing a more acceptable creation myth than those given in the Bible, Hesiod, the Popul-Vuh, etc. However, beyond this there is precious little use for evolution. Its nineteenth-century exponents, like Sir Francis Galton, saw it as an eminently satisfactory explanation for the inequality of different populations, and for inequality observable within a given population. While their arguments still seem to have merit to the unprejudiced observer they run absolutely athwart the ideological bias of the modern academy. Occasionally a sacrifice is necessary, pour encourager les autres. Recent victims are Lawrence Summers, late of Harvard, and James D. Watson of DNA fame.

January 10, 2008 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

I like the U.S Gypsum plug there.

Why the hell are you voting at all, MM? It's clearly a waste of time.

Even though I'm not going to vote, I explained why I want Ron Paul to win (though I am sure he will not) here. My guesses as to what will happen are the same as Bryan Caplan's.

Even though Will Wilkinson often annoys me, I think you mischaracterized/slandered him. He has, in fact, donated money to the Paul campaign.

I had never heard of Georgi Abatov before, but the article you link to doesn't make him sound like a dissident at all, house or otherwise.

Most people think the rEVOLution will die with Paul, and I am inclined to agree.

The people who worry about creationism are pathetic. Every time some school tries to introduce it they get smacked down, regardless of who is President. What the President actually can do is stuff like No Child Left Behind.

I think it's questionable whether Brownie made much of a difference to FEMA. He actually presided over other hurricanes previously in Florida but nobody noticed his incompetence until Katrina. There are plenty of other people all deserving of blame with that one like Nagin, Blanco, Chertoff and so on.

You forgot another power of the President: he can pardon Scooter Libby. He can also fire people, as has been clear since Andrew Johnson survived impeachment. That doesn't mean people have to approve of it though.

I still think your characterization of the press as "official" is nonsense. The Constitution discusses the powers of the federal government and the only time it needs to mention the press is with regard to the powers of that government with respect to it.

Jewish Atheist should start reading IOZ.

January 10, 2008 at 2:03 PM  
Blogger Gerard said...

MY NAME IS MOLDBUG and I write beneath the sign of Sardonicus. Look upon my yabble, ye mortals, and despair.

January 10, 2008 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

The best reason to restore the constitution of 1926 (or 1889 or whatever) is that it grants us another hundred (or 200, or whatever) years of peace and prosperity (relative to the rest of the world) before the inevitable revolution and collapse. Given that civilization appears to be mostly an exercise in opposing the second law of thermodynamics, this seems a laudable goal for that reason alone. As a good formalist, the postponing and prevention of revolution ought to be near the top of your priority list.

January 10, 2008 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

I would be astonished if Paul won the presidency, but I don't understand how he even manages to get reelected to Congress, nor why he wants to. For me, the appeal of voting "no" on bad bills that pass anyway would wear off rather quickly.

January 10, 2008 at 7:10 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

I second Beefpile.

Weinberg, Paul gets re-elected because incumbents have long had massive advantages, he is a Republican in what I believe is a reliably Republican district (his party supported a former Democrat in one primary against him, and he used the prior affiliations effectively), he earmarks like anyone else (he figures the money is already allocated and good as spent so might as well shift it to his district, though he still votes against the bills his amendments are added to) and does the regular Congressional duties described here.

January 11, 2008 at 1:20 AM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

This is a fascinating blog post.

What I drew from it is that it is impossible to reform the civil service in any significant and permanent way.

This seems to be the conclusion that is emerging from the UK Labour government's decade long cash injection into the public sector (especially the health service and education). This really huge increase in real funding (doubling of heath funding) was originally supposed to be linked to market-eque and consumer-orientated reforms. In practice, virtually nothing has changed but the system costs twice as much due to generalized wage increases among public sector workers (who know earn more than private sector workers). I am one of these unearned wage-increase beneficaries as a university 'professor' (although, naturally, I personally deserve regular above-inflation wage rises...).

BUT but but - it *is* possible to reform the public sector by privatization - in other words the public sector can be shrunk by cutting their functions.

This actually happened under the Margaret Thatcher government, and is had the effect of reversing the UK's decades-long economic decline.


However, this massively obvious and hugely important economic fact and the reason for its occurrence constitute probably the best-kept secret in the nation. Which is exactly in-line with MM's world view.

January 12, 2008 at 2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The analysis here is incomparably better than at IOZ. At UR there are serious discussions of endemic reasons for state power to increase, and a novel approach to dealing with that. At IOZ, they basically have

(1) dirty language,

(2) a bizarre (and tacit) assertion that a Ron Paul victory would somehow prevent victories by like-minded people at other levels of government. (Something like: It's unrealistic to imagine a mass of Libertarian legislative victories so we won't do it; it's unrealistic to imagine a libertarian presidential victory but let's do it anyway...? They won't make their assumptions clear so we just have to guess, but why bother?) and

(3) such blatant misuse of the term "racist" that it simply has no meaning any more. The attacks on Clinton and Paul were equally worthless. We have something like: Clinton's a racist because his regime didn't release blacks from prison so as to reduce their "overrepresentation" in the population. As to the allegations against Paul, moldbug was more eloquent on that issue than I could ever be.

Actually I find it interesting that when people (other than moldbug) dash for the safety of the center, they do so by slinging mud at both sides more-or-less equally. They could just as easily do so by being equally neutral or positive ... "A pox on neither of your houses!" But that would hardly suit a nation in which "erudite" is taken to mean "bitter and negative". The very notion that the US government is less moral than the public simply baffles me; I would address it if only I could begin to take it seriously.

So why ANYONE should read IOZ is quite beyond me.

Yours truly,

January 12, 2008 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Tripp, don't post as anonymous. Use the nickname option if you don't feel like signing up for a blogger account.

Second, when has MM ever been above dirty language? IOZ may be more humorous, but they have a similar discussion of the state as a network of power structures that constantly seeks to grow even as it is supposedly headed by "liberals" or "progressives" or "conservatives" who are supposed to be for freedom and "the people" and whatnot.

This post was not up when I mentioned IOZ here but neither there or anywhere else can I recall him making the assertions you claim he does.

IOZ did not make allegations against Paul, he was defending him against critics. He doesn't seem to have given his opinion of whether Paul is in his heart a racist but granting it for the sake of argument he claims that Clinton's actions were more harmful than Paul's proposed policies. Given that MM also seems to support ending the Drug War, I don't see the big difference.

I don't see IOZ "dashing towards the center", he has described himself alternately as minarchist and anarchist, which is a pretty damn fringe ideology. I don't see IOZ forgiving the public either, he seems to have a more than Menckenesque contempt for it.

How about this: provide some quotes from IOZ that you disagree with and we can discuss them because right now I don't know what you're talking about.

January 12, 2008 at 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the whole I'm still digesting the whole concept of criticizing a potential Ron Paul presidency as doomed to failure. I'll admit that a Ron Paul victory isn't very plausible, but I'm not sure why it's necessary to go and make it more implausible by positing that there isn't any real support behind it. Scenarios:
(1) There is a sea change in public values, and people decide they're tired of the overarching state and decide to hang the minotaur's head on the wall, etc. They decide to vote for R.P. and whoever the most libertarian (if not Libertarian) candidate is in every other election. Chance of success: high. Inevitability of minotaur recapitating itself and reestablishing LBJ-style statism: no convincing reason to assume it is high (sea changes being what they are). Plausibility: low
(2) Ron Paul switches identities with Barbara Harris and/or Jodie Foster and winds up President with little support among the electorate. Change of success: low. Inevitability of minotaur recapitating itself and reestablishing LBJ-style statism: high. Plausibility: [roll eyes, drum fingers on desk]

Still Yours,

January 12, 2008 at 3:09 PM  
Anonymous Tripp said...

Okay TGGP, I'll take your advice about the nickname.

So now I'm figuring out that IOZ is supposed to be an actual person. Sorry. I thought it was a group, and for some reason I thought some of the responses to the post were by IOZ (e.g. the ones with the implausible Paul-getting-elected scenario). My bad. A lot of people seemed to agree with the author's "lily-white cracker ass" sentiments, but who is being ironic and who isn't is beyond me. If he thinks Jim Crow (which victimized blacks whether or not they were criminals) is the equivalent of prisons (which don't), then he can hardly be trusted. Just my opinion.

As far as dashing for the center, I don't really see any reason for him to double-pox if that's not what he's trying to do. I suppose anarchy can be considered a fringe position, and it's my bad for not really seeing it that way, but whenever I discuss politics in a group on the web self-described anarchists are always present, and often in a majority. Asking an anarchist what they think of a Presidential candidate is a little like asking a teetotaller if they prefer Johnny Walker or [famous rival of Johnny Walker].

Anyway, I'm not particularly invested in disliking IOZ and I won't knock him any more. Maybe he was having a bad day; I certainly was. And I'm still left with the weird question about why everyone (now I see this includes Caplan ... greeeeaaat) assumes that voters could switch from statist to libertarian on the Presidency but not any other office.

And yes, I do think "fuckers" is about a hundred times classier than "cunt knuckles". :)

January 12, 2008 at 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Tripp said...

... And onto the gold standard. My opinions on this matter are as limited on this as my knowledge. I was a washout in macroeconomics (although I remember liking it, and not actually flunking) and now when I read an argument for the gold standard, I sometimes feel I can sort of follow it, and maybe it's a good idea. When I read an argument for Keynesianism, I feel the same way.

What I can't follow, and don't feel is a good idea, is the bland assertions that the gold standard is crazy, with no supporting models, or even any chit-chat. The Daily Kos had gold as supporting evidence for Paul being whack, which I think is an adjective. It's not just Megan McArdle, lots of people on the web say "the gold standard will impoverish the economy" and state it is absolute fact that everyone knows except people with brain lesions (presumably lain out in the infamous "Cross of Gold Tomography Pattern" - the scourge of neurologists worldwide).

Maybe it's just the whatever WJ Bryan said a grillion years ago, someone has to agree with today. The eye couldn't have evolved by chance - to disagree is crazy! The gold standard sucks - to disagree is crazy! It makes perfect sense for pacifists to serve in progressive Democratic cabinets - to disagree is crazy!

Seriously though, I'm feeling less informed on the gold standard as time goes on. Is opposition to the gold standard based on some incontrovertible evidence that Keynesianism (or maybe monetarism? Isn't Thatcher just Keynes in reverse?) is an optimal system? And is it because expansion is good all the time, or only in deflationary times? Does deflation even happen any more? (I don't see too many negative signs in lists of inflation rates by country.)

I know I'm dense about economics, but with the quality of anti-Paul economic one-liners going around, I'm not going to admit to being below-average, just yet.

January 12, 2008 at 4:25 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

1. Ron Paul is unelectable

So what? The main point of voting is to send a signal about your political position. The chances that anybody's vote, whether for a candidate who "can win" or otherwise, will actually change the outcome of an election is infinitesimal.

Secondly, there is a shot at gaining some delegates (AFAIK after Iowa and New Hampshire Paul has 2 delegates so far) to the Republican convention. Based on his organizational and financial clout he can negotiate with the actual party nominees for his support (or at least not his rivalry) in the fall elections. He will try to win economic policy concessions from the Democratic nominee and foreign policy concessions from the Republican. There are many interesting things Paul could negotiate for, for example his choice of a cabinet member or court nominee. To be sure, none of this is satisfactory from a purist libertarian position -- only from a realpolitik perspective. But it's far more than what we could have hoped for 12 months ago.

2. If Ron Paul is elected, the civil-service oligarchy will crush him like a bug.

Sure, just like they tried to crush Reagan with daily "Reagan says ketchup is a vegetable" smears in the MSM every time he suggested a budget cut. It would be ugly. But we're not wimps, are we? And unlike Reagan we have the Internet to combat the MSM.

3. The only thing worse than civil-service oligarchy is actual democracy.

The problem may not be democracy itself, but the "democracy" we have had, namely one driven by a monolithic one-way media that depends on government in various ways. The Internet is starting to change that, and the Paul movement suggests that the new Internet culture has a much stronger and larger libertarian element.

January 12, 2008 at 4:58 PM  
Blogger racketmensch said...

By Odin, this is good stuff!

President Paul, could end (for us) the disaster in Iraq by February '09; anything more he might accomplish is just frosting.

"He's a funny-looking little man with a squeaky voice though, he's definitely not up to that job"
That's what Goliath said.

TGGP - thanks for not posting to you own blog for a few days. This is only the second time I've been able to catch up enough on your posts to get to your blogroll. You guys publish almost faster than I can read, and it's not light stuff either.

January 12, 2008 at 6:58 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Glad to see you using the nickname feature, Tripp. I remember when that Baldrick/Jupiter character kept posting on Sailer's site and we tried to explain to him that he could avoid posting as "anonymous", but it never seemed to get through to him.

I wouldn't consider the War on Drugs to be the equivalent of Jim Crow, but I could definitely see an argument that the former is worse than the latter. As the Inductivist and Freakonomics points out, most of the violence behind Jim Crow was only necessary in the early years and afterward it was established enough that the mere threat was sufficient to cow people. With the War on Drugs the killing just seems to go on and on. It is true that by definition the violators of drug laws are criminals, but even those who don't break the law but live in drug-ridden communities are significantly harmed. If you read Radley Balko then you know that many innocent people have their homes broken into by SWAT teams in no-knock raids and can wind up getting shot all because the cops by necessity are reliant on informants, who are some of the least reliable people around.

Ron Paul doesn't actually want to legislate a gold standard back into existence but change the law so that gold can compete on a more even playing field with the dollar.

racketmensch, I'm glad you find my blog interesting to read. I swore to myself I wouldn't make another post until I got started on a piece of writing, but I've still continued to procrastinate. I was told to finish roughly within the month, so beyond that you can be confident that I'll resume posting.

January 12, 2008 at 8:42 PM  
Anonymous audacityof08 said...

If Ron Paul is the nominee, there is a small danger that the "mainstream Republicans" will stay home and leave the field of the House and Senate to the Democrats, making Paul's job to stand astride Congress yelling "Stop!" Paul may be able to get a libertarian like Posner on the Supreme Court.

The standard argument for why we have a more active state is that the situation of 1889 was unsustainable. There was a power differential between workers and owners so that owners had all the liberty of contract and workers had none. It was in the interest of owners to deprive workers of autonomy. But now labor unions and working-class solidarity are much weaker. A corporate law code which is tough on fraud, deceit, and anticompetitive practices may maintain the Constitution of 1889 for a longer period.

Here from Interfluidity from Mark Thoma.

January 14, 2008 at 6:46 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Posner is not a libertarian. For a libertarian judge that could join the court, try Alez Kozinski.

January 14, 2008 at 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Thats_Nice said...

Yeah, that Democracy. Pretty bad.

Did you know that the worthless western farmers elected Andrew Jackson? Democracy at its worst. That two-bit worthless animal took down the Bank of the United States. Isn't that sad? Naturally, the Bank of the United States deliberately created a depression in order to defend itself, and that evil, evil Jackson still killed it.

Thank God we gots the Federal Reserve back in 1914. Dem sorta blokes stop depressions dat us stupid commoners cause. After dey was put in charge, biggest bubble up until now, the Roaring 20s happened. Then the greatest depression, until now, immediately after. How odd. But they created the Federal Reserve SMARTS, with as little Congress critters voting as necessary during Christmas holiday. Avoided that evil democracy good, and helped the nation to boot.

You got quite the mouth on you, for a fool.

June 6, 2008 at 8:46 PM  
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January 31, 2009 at 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erection begins with sensory or mental stimulation, or both. Impulses from the brain and local nerves cause the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, allowing blood to flow in and fill the spaces. The blood creates pressure in the corpora cavernosa, making the penis to expand. The tunica albuginea helps trap the blood in the corpora cavernosa, which further helps to sustain erection.

February 2, 2009 at 1:10 AM  
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February 12, 2009 at 2:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 6, 2009 at 6:23 AM  
Anonymous Freedom's Anthem said...

After slogging my way through what amounts to textual diarrhea I offer these succinct suggestions in answer to your premise: What can the President do?

There are two primary functions of the Presidency: The Commander in Chief, and head of the Executive branch.

As CIC he can order the troops home from any theater lacking a Declaration of War by Congress. Under the current practice, the President has practically total discretion.

As Executive he can issue an executive order to issue Treasury Notes as currency backed by gold and/or silver, as Kennedy did.

The executive technically controls spending. It would be more difficult for him to refuse to spend appropriated funds for any given department, but not impossible. Exercising his presumed mandate to cut the fat will allow some elimination of redundant jobs or contracts. While Cleveland's Civil Service presents high hurdles, as you point out, the key to managing it is a freeze on hiring and an aggressive pursuit of the rules of conduct to fire malefactors.

Not to say that it will be easy, and staying alive and functioning will be as much a challenge, but with determination and smart use of his grass roots support he can auger in a sea change, as the tireless Wilberforce did against entrenched slavery interests in his day.

May 9, 2011 at 11:14 AM  

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